On Sunday, April 29, Brock Lesnar steps back into the squared circle to battle John Cena at Extreme Rules.
The match marks the first professional wrestling match for Lesnar since he unceremoniously left World Wrestling Entertainment in March of 2004. During his time away from the world of sports-entertainment, Brock made a name for himself as the undisputed king of pay-per-view box office, leading UFC and the world of mixed martial arts to its most successful period. A very serious health scare, however, shortened Lesnar’s career in the sport.
The night after Wrestlemania XXVIII, the most successful pay-per-view event in the history of professional wrestling, Lesnar made his return to WWE and immediately targeted John Cena. It became immediately apparent that the company would attempt to capitalize on the success of this year’s Wrestlemania by presenting a huge main event between Brock and Cena at Extreme Rules.
Vince McMahon paid Brock Lesnar to return to the company and provide the spark that will reignite a struggling pay-per-view business. Working only 30 days in a one-year period, Brock signed the most lucrative contract in company history, reportedly worth in excess of $5 million. There is a lot riding on the man that took UFC to heights it had never seen before.
Unfortunately, the WWE boss will find himself disappointed far earlier than he may have expected.
The truth about Brock Lesnar is that those in power at WWE expect him to be something he is not. For whatever reason, Vince McMahon and those he surrounds himself with believe that the WWE fans have some sort of connection with Lesnar because—during very short period in WWE history—he was a fairly big deal. But the fans do not have that connection.
Will the Brock Lesnar experiment pay off for WWE?
Case in point: Wrestlemania XX.
Just under two years into his run as a WWE Superstar Brock Lesnar wrestled his last match against Bill Goldberg in front of a hostile crowd inside Madison Square Garden. The fans did not shower Brock with applause, nor did they celebrate the career he had prior to leaving. Instead, they relentlessly booed him.
In their eyes, Lesnar was money hungry, looking to make the quickest buck possible without having to put in all the travel that comes with being a WWE Superstar.
Those same power players behind the scenes believe the same fans that followed Lesnar to the UFC will follow him back to WWE.
It is an even bigger piece of evidence that the company does not understand its audience. The audience skews younger—that is no surprise. Children and their parents make up a major fraction of the audience, with those remaining being either die-hard fans or casual viewers not so invested in characters and stories.
Brock Lesnar appealed to the UFC audience because that audience was the key 18-35 demographic that was so eager to see an ass-kicking machine they could either cheer to victory or jeer to defeat. In mixed martial arts, Brock could be his smug, arrogant, cocky self. He could say what was on his mind in sit-down interviews, and it was usually his ability to hype the fight with his opponent that made so many people want to see what would happen.
Lesnar cannot be utilized to his fullest potential when he is being given lines to recite in front of the WWE audience.
Look no further than the April 23rd edition of Raw, where Lesnar openly stuttered and stammered over lines in front of the live audience. Brock is and has always been best-utilized when he had someone to speak for him, like a Paul Heyman, and was allowed to be the dominating beast of a man that he was during most of his initial WWE run.
In 2003, Vince McMahon hired Bill Goldberg to be one of the top stars in his company.
Rather than allowing Goldberg to work in the same formula that made him one of the biggest stars on the planet during the Monday Night Wars years, they tried to convert him into a WWE-style performer—an attempt that failed miserably. Goldberg never was the star he should have been, and that was a result of McMahon’s attempt to make him something he is not. Lesnar is quickly falling into the same situation.
The biggest problem, and the most inconvenient truth WWE must face, is that Vince McMahon believes Brock Lesnar is a much bigger star in the world of professional wrestling than he actually is. It is as simple as that.
The Rock’s return to professional wrestling, which culminated with the showdown against John Cena at Wrestlemania XXVIII, meant so much to so many because fans connected with The Rock when he was a major star in the business during the late-90s and early-2000s. Before he was a major motion picture star, he was arguably the biggest star in the sport. His return meant more, simply based on the fact that at one time he entertained millions around the world as a member of the WWE family.
Brock Lesnar was never that guy.
He was never the guy that gave the impression that he loved the professional wrestling business. Instead, he came across as a young guy with all the tools and potential in the world, who was more interested in collecting a paycheck than ever giving back to the industry or creating a legacy for himself. When it became known that he was leaving the business to try his hand at football, it soured most on the former NCAA wrestling champion.
Sunday night, WWE will present a pay-per-view event from Chicago with Brock Lesnar versus John Cena as the main event. Unlike the previous month’s main event, however, neither excitement nor hype is at an all-time high. What probably should feel like a major attraction instead feels like the main event match of any other pay-per-view the company would produce.
The company has mishandled Lesnar’s return.
Brock has not lived up to the hype from a performance standpoint, and the fans have not responded to him with the same passionate reaction they reserved for The Rock.
Add them all up, and you have the makings for a disappointing Extreme Rules buy rate and the beginning of what may well be a very rocky year for Lesnar and the company that grossly overpaid him for his services.